Barbara La Marr Poster

Biography

Reatha Watson (Barbara La Marr) is possibly most famous as supposedly being one of the first drug-related deaths in Hollywood, but while she had a serious drinking problem she in fact died of tuberculosis with complications of nephritis. She is notable for other reasons, among them her successes as a screenwriter. Born in Yakima, Washington, she had a career as a child stage actress in the Pacific Northwest until she outgrew child roles but was too young to play an adult. Her family moved to the Imperial Valley in California, where Reatha began her explorations of Los Angeles high life as a teenager and tried unsuccessfully to break into the movies. There were several disastrous marriages, during which she developed a distinctive style as a dancer that brought her some success in the cabaret world, though finally dancing became too strenuous for her delicate constitution. She married vaudeville actor Ben Deeley; after they moved to New York Reatha (under the name Folly Lytell) was contracted to write six film scenarios for Fox. She made the successful leap from writer to actress in Douglas Fairbanks' The Nut (1921), and her career skyrocketed under her new name of Barbara La Marr. She lived extravagantly, lavishing expensive gifts on friends and relations. After an affair with John Gilbert and legal complications over the legality of some of her marriages and divorces, her career went into a decline and her contract with Metro was terminated. Mismanaged by her new studio, scathing reviews brought her to despair as her health declined, in part due to destructive crash-dieting methods. Her high-powered lifestyle and drinking continued at fever pitch, however, and she was finally diagnosed with active tuberculosis (a terrible scourge in the 1920s), from which she died in January of 1926. The TB was kept quiet, the official studio press release blaming her death on "vigorous dieting". Her 'adopted' son Marvin, actually her own child, was then adopted by La Marr's best friend, Zasu Pitts.